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Northern China chokes under smog, Hebei on highest pollution alert

BEIJING: Tens of millions of people across northern China were under severe pollution warnings on Tuesday (Oct 31), with authorities urging them to reduce outdoor activities as a greyish smog enveloped the region.

Several areas of north China’s Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, home to more than 100 million people, are suffering from some of the worst pollution they have seen in months.

In the capital Beijing, authorities Monday issued an orange alert – the country’s second-highest pollution warning.

“There has been more smog in the past two days … it really has an effect,” said office worker Fu Dalin, 27.

“Because the smog is so serious, I won’t go out for a run like usual, and will just have to stay at home,” he told AFP in a business district in downtown Beijing.

Another resident, Xu Gengying, said the pollution wouldn’t stop her from going about her everyday life.

“We still go out when we need to, if there’s something to do. Just avoid doing some exercise outdoors — no jogging,” she said.

TRAFFIC SAFETY CONTROLS

In several areas in densely populated Hebei province, which surrounds the capital, authorities issued their highest red alert. One official forecast showed that hazy conditions brought visibility down to lower than 50 metres.

Hebei launched an anti-pollution emergency response, listing traffic safety controls for when necessary including suspending flight takeoffs and landings, temporarily closing highways and suspending ferries, China’s meteorological bureau said in a notice.

Authorities also warned road users to stop in safe parking areas when conditions required and asked people to stay indoors.

Beijing said it would implement traffic control measures if the capital activates its highest air pollution warning.

In the nearby city of Tianjin, south of Beijing and home to 15 million people, the meteorological bureau advised anyone suffering from respiratory issues to refrain from going outside and to wear a mask if they do.

“UNFAVOURABLE” CONDITIONS

Heavy smog has engulfed the country’s north for a few days while autumn temperatures soared to typical early summer levels close to 30 degrees Celsius in some areas.

Experts said weak cold air currents from the north pole were a key factor behind the unusual weather.

Official forecasters said the smog, which they blamed on “unfavourable weather conditions”, will linger in the region until temperatures drop from unseasonably mild highs later this week.

Should a red alert be issued in Beijing, that would trigger measures such as reducing traffic by prohibiting emitting vehicles with licence plates ending in even and odd numbers from driving on alternate days.

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Regional power consumption in late October was up 5 per cent compared with first half of the month, more significantly in the cement, brick and tile industries, worsening conditions, CCTV said.

Parts of Tianjin municipality and Hebei and Shandong provinces, as well as eastern areas of Jiangsu province saw heavy fog resulting in visibility of less than 1 km (0.62 mile) on Tuesday morning, the National Meteorological Center (NMC) said.

Until Thursday, light to moderate haze will continue to cover the central and southern parts of China’s northern region, with severe haze forecast in the central parts, NMC said.

Cold air currents are forecast to stream in the north from Thursday night, creating conditions that could weaken and dissipate the haze, the weather forecaster said.

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